Poly Styrene was one of the most ebullient and original figures to come out of punk rock’s first wave. A decade after her death, Poly’s daughter is ready to tell her mother’s story.
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Brought up in Brixton, Anglo-Somalian teenager Marianne Elliott-Said saw the Sex Pistols before they had made their first record and was inspired to form X-Ray Spex, one of the most vibrant and original bands to come out of punk’s first wave.
In songs like “Identity” and “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” she addressed issues of consumerism and sexism in ways still pertinent today. As a woman of colour singing her mind, she lived and breathed the original punk ideals of nonconformity, anti-authoritarianism and doing-it-yourself.
But Poly’s health battles, in addition to the misogyny and racism she experienced both within and outside the music business, led her to retreat from the spotlight at the height of her success, seeking solace in unexpected places. In her later years, the world she inhabited was one more often associated with hippies than punks.
Upon her death in 2011, daughter Celeste Bell “wasn’t ready to be the caretaker of Poly Styrene’s legacy” but, a decade on, she proves she is uniquely qualified to be just that, as narrator and codirector of this intimate and powerful documentary. Though there is plenty of music and footage of Poly Styrene in her performing prime, it is the relationship between the mother and daughter that sits at the heart of this story, much more than just the rise and fall of a punk rock icon. — Nick Bollinger